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Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016
A Novel IdeaPosted Monday, March 3, 2008, at 8:59 AM
Maybe if I'd used a ballpoint instead...
The book is red and the title is yellow. The title jumps off the cover at you: "This Year You Write Your Novel." When I saw the book, that title seemed sort of like a direct order, so I felt compelled to pick it up. The first few pages assured me that I had a novel in me, and that it wanted to come out. This certainly lined up with a feeling I had been having, although I had attributed the feeling to too much coleslaw. Intrigued, I read on.
Turns out the secret to writing a novel is incredibly simple. I hesitate to give away Mr. Mosley's technique, but his book has been out a while so it's probably gotten around anyway. It turns out to be simple mathematics. You might look at a novel on a table and think, "I couldn't write all that." But anybody can write one page, right? And what is a novel, really, except a collection of many pages? So if you sit down every morning and write one page, at the end of a year you'll have 365 pages. And that, my friends, is a novel.
Well, duh. Why hadn't I thought of that? I guess that's why he's the famous author and I'm the nobody pigging out on coleslaw.
So I sat down and began my novel the next morning. Mr. Mosley said not to worry about where the novel would end up, but just to start where it seemed right to me. So I launched into it pretty vigorously, and the first page fairly leapt from the pen. It was fun! It was easy. It was also, as I noticed when I re-read it, Moby Dick. When I started writing, the first thing that leapt out was "Call me Ishmael!" From there it went downhill. Downhill toward the ocean, where all men go when the wandering spirit comes upon them. I began to get worried.
Mr. Mosley had also said that I mustn't go back and edit anything I wrote. The idea is to get your first draft down on paper and not second-guess anything until you're done. So I had to try to re-direct my efforts in a less plagiaristic way the best I could. I had to get my guy Ishmael off that boat so I could get him back into the plot of my own novel. Three pages in now, it occurred to me to wreck the ship in a storm, so I did. Now Ishmael was stranded on a desert island. Two more pages and he spotted footprints in the sand and realized that he was not alone after all.
Wait a minute. Damned if now I'm not writing Robinson Crusoe. And I don't even ever remember reading Robinson Crusoe.
I'm starting to panic now, six or so pages into my novel. (Or rather, somebody's novel.) Now what do I do? I've got to break out of this somehow. So there is a tsunami. The island is swamped by the giant wave and Ishmael, clinging to the trunk of a palm tree, is carried in the flood to the coast of Europe. There, a Revolution is raging in France, and our hero falls in love with the beautiful Lucie Manette, but is caught up in the Terror when he is mistaken for another man who looks just like him.
Yeah, OK. A Tale of Two Cities. I give up.
Who knew Freshman World Lit. class made such an impact on me? It certainly didn't seem that way back when I had to take tests on all this stuff. All I can say is that maybe Mr. Mosley's plan will work for less literate people and/or more creative people, but as for me… I guess I'll stick to coleslaw.
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